Date of this Version
Sheldon Solo, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, 1987
It seems particularly appropriate that the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln presents the exhibition Juan Hamilton: Selected Works 1972-1991. It is apparent that Hamilton's encounter with the reductive form of Princess X, 1916 by the 20th Century master sculptor, Constantin Brancusi, had a profound impact and influence on his own mature aesthetic. The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, designed by Philip Johnson, has had on permanent display in the Great Hall this sculpture since its opening to the public in 1963. Though Juan Hamilton was cognizant (prior to his collegiate studies at Hastings College in Nebraska) of Brancusi's sculpture, it seems that the biomorphic and columnar fluidity of Princess X had a lasting influence on his own sculptural vocabulary. It was also here on the remote plains of the Nebraska prairie that Hamilton found the solitude to pursue the medium of ceramics--the vessel that became the central metaphor for his sculpture.
Juan Hamilton's new work reveals changes in terms of formal vocabulary and technical sophistication that substantially extend his range as an artist. Because Hamilton is dedicated to quality and to the continuity of tradition, these changes have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Newness in his case is never novelty, but a gradual increase of skill and vision. Thus the current matte black bronze sculptures executed during the past two years differ from the preceeding sleek, polished bronzes and lacquered bronzes in a number of ways that are significant they are larger, more distinctively sculptural in their conscious use of all 360 degrees of changing viewpoints, each one different as the viewer moves around Hamilton's subtle sloping shapes. Perhaps most importantly, the new works absorb rather than reflect light. This drawing away from light, as opposed to playing with a seductive flickering, enhances our sense of them as looming, mysterious presences, which display a new sense of gravity, a deliberate heaviness that is more illusion than reality.
That Hamilton began his artistic career as a ceramist may explain why his forms, although they are monolithic, still communicate the personal touch of the artist's hand--the feeling of modeling rather than of cutting out or of slicing a form from a pre-existing block that we normally associate with the monolith. Moreover, there are no hard edges in Hamilton's art: plane meets plane softly, gently - another indication of his decisive rejection of the machine aesthetic that has more characterized recent modem art. Cenainly, simple, reductive forms are within the mainstream of modernist sculpture. However, they are much closer to the spiritual aesthetic that originally inspired Brancusi than they are to the materialist empiricism of minimal art